This article appeared in the February 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
In the nation’s capital, the remarkable success of the Republican Party in the 2016 election contradicted expectations and changed the way many in Washington understand campaigns and the electorate. Outside of Washington, voters remain deeply divided in ways that could impact the division of power and authority within the intergovernmental partnership. But as a nonpartisan organization representing the nation’s 19,000 cities, towns and villages, the National League of Cities (NLC) is focused on making sure that cities have a seat at the table, and that city priorities are met. Because when cities lead, things get done— especially in the areas of public safety, infrastructure investment and economic development.
Rhetoric during the election muddied the perception of cities with gross mischaracterizations about cities and our residents. That’s why our 2017 strategy starts with changing the narrative around cities. NLC is making sure Washington knows just how strong and important local governments are to the well-being of the nation.
America’s cities—both small and large—are home to more than 80 percent of the nation’s population. Metropolitan areas account for nearly 90 percent of the Peach State’s gross domestic product (GDP). Local governments control 78 percent of our roads, half our bridges and nearly all of the nation’s water infrastructure. They manage our city police forces and first responders, and they are on the front lines of crises like the opioid epidemic.
You know these statistics because you live them every day, in communities from Valdosta to Atlanta. Local leadership in these areas is critical, because local governments know how to get stuff done—we don’t have any other option. That’s why we need to make sure that Congress and the Administration will work with cities as true partners, providing critical funding and support while allowing cities to make the choices that are best for their communities.
We are hopeful that the new Administration and Congress will fulfill their end of the partnership. In meetings with President Trump during the transition, he voiced support for infrastructure investment and preserving the tax exemption for municipal bonds. We look forward to working together to help neighborhoods reduce crime and grow opportunity, and create and retain jobs.
We also hope to assist the president in building a strong White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA) that values the contributions of local governments, and makes sure that cities continue to have a voice in the White House by appointing current and former local officials to key posts.
On the Hill, we have committed to visit each office of the newly elected representatives and senators of the 115th Congress. We’re looking forward to visiting the office of Georgia’s newest representative, Drew Ferguson, the former mayor of West Point. Our top asks for Congress this session are to protect tax-exempt municipal bonds from any tampering related to overall tax reform; authorize the collection of sales tax on internet purchases; and to allocate funding for infrastructure directly to local governments.
On these issues and others, NLC has built a history of progress and success with Democratic and Republican leadership in Congress, and we are poised to continue that success with the new Congressional class.
During the previous Congress, NLC was able to deliver numerous legislative victories for cities including a five-year transportation bill that puts more money in the hands of local governments; a water bill that includes resources for cities like Flint, Michigan, impacted by lead pipe contamination; a public health bill that significantly increases resources to battle the opioid epidemic tearing through our communities; and spending bills that have largely maintained level funding for local priorities. Most importantly, all of this was achieved without tampering with municipal bonds.
We can expect to face new opportunities and challenges for cities in 2017, and NLC is ready. Our team of policy experts and researchers will be fighting for cities with the latest tools and data. But our best advocates are you—America’s city leaders. That’s why I hope you can join us in Washington for the Congressional City Conference on March 11-15, and meet with federal officials about your city and priorities. We can make a real impact, because cities are strong, together.
Clarence Anthony is the executive director of the National League of Cities. He served as the mayor of South Bay, Fl. for 24 years.